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O’Reilly case shines the spotlight on sexual harassment

It is usually celebrities who bring our attention to sexual harassment in the workplace, and Bill O’Reilly is the latest culprit.  Recently it was announced that over the years, Fox News paid millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment lawsuits and keep women from talking about their experiences with O’Reilly.  By paying these women off and keeping them quiet, O’Reilly was able to continue his behavior for decades — until this week, when he was forced out of his job.

“The bottom line is money.  Employers will protect employees who are making money for the company, and Mr. O’Reilly had a large base of advertisers supporting his program,” said Jeffrey Freedman, managing attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC.  “When advertisers found out about the harassment and removed their ads from his program, Fox News finally had to make a change.”

O’Reilly’s behavior continued for years and he harassed each of his victims over long periods of time.  This is one of the keys to being successful with a sexual harassment lawsuit.  Harassment is generally not a one-time thing, it has to be “severe and pervasive.”  That means for the person who is being harassed, the court will consider how many incidents occurred over how long a period of time to determine how pervasive the harassment has been.  

“Most companies have written policies about sexual harassment,” Freedman said.  “The employee who feels they are being harassed should check those policies to determine to whom they can complain to show that the policy is being violated.”

When a complaint has been filed it becomes the employer’s responsibility to make changes to improve the situation for the victim.  In one example, a supervisor asked an employee to go out with him on several occasions.  There were written notes and cards proving he continued to ask the employee out even after she had turned him down.  Eventually, he fired the woman.  She filed a complaint and was offered her job back.

“It was still a difficult situation because her job involved going back to work in the same location as the offender.  The solution was that the company moved the male worker to another location.  If the employer had failed to correct the situation it could have been responsible for the harassment inflicted by it’s employee.” Freedman said.